Antrim Alliance Councillor Alan Lawther has said the right to free speech is fundamental to democracy, stating that recent debate over apparent insults to Islam is equally applicable to disputes closer to home.
The Antrim South East representative stated: “A Danish paper printed cartoons which are offensive to Muslims around the world, and this has sparked a wave of protests in the Middle East and Indonesia. Some of these have become violent. But does this mean the Western press will have to surrender their freedom to print what they wish?
“We hear a lot of discussion about ‘respecting diversity’. But that is a two-way process. Religious feelings deserve respect but so does the right to criticise them. I disagree with many articles published in the press, indeed I find many of them offensive. But I defend their right to be published.
“This is not some issue distant from Northern Ireland, there are clear parallels at home too. The Irish President expressed views offensive to Northern Protestants two years ago. Still members of Antrim Council and elsewhere threaten protests if she visits the borough. Are they suggesting that the President has no right to express her views? Personally, I would be more inclined to show her the error of her views rather than engage in pathetic stand-offs.
“After just a few months in Council, it is depressing to see Councillors take offence at issues as irrelevant as literature having a letter from the Free Presbyterian church on one side and information about civil partnerships on the other. Such elected representatives claim to be ‘democratic’, yet they fail to recognize that free speech and compromise are essential building blocks to any civilized democracy.
“We should all take time to consider just how this outbreak of international fear and hatred refers directly to our own little part of the world. And we should consider whether we are really interested in accountable democracy, or merely protecting the interests of our own specific tribe.”